New Group Seeks Tax Credit Bonds for Desalination, Water Recycling

A coalition plans to push for federal legislation authorizing the use of tax credit bonds to develp water recycling...

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

A coalition plans to push for federal legislation authorizing the use of tax credit bonds to develop water recycling, seawater and brackish groundwater desalination, and groundwater reclamation projects.

The Washington, D.C.-based New Water Supply Coalition is an expanded organization that grew from the U.S. Desalination Coalition, formed in 2002, to seek federal funding to build seawater and brackish groundwater desalination projects. Legislation was filed in the last Congress proposing $200 million in funding for desalination projects.

“Our growing national population and the challenges posed by climate change make the development of new water supplies a critical priority,” said Hal Furman, executive director of the latest coalition. “We have the technology to develop new water supplies if it becomes a national priority, but time is of the essence.”

The group has broadened its membership and focus to support other new water supply programs. Coalition members include American Water, The Texas Water Conservation Association, and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply.

California-based members are the Eastern Municipal Water District, the El Dorado Irrigation District, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the San Diego County Water Authority, the San Gabriel Basin Water Quality Authority, and the West Basin Municipal Water District.

Florida members are the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, the Jacksonville water and electric utility JEA, the St. John’s River Water Management District, the South Florida Water Management District, and the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Michael Slayton, coalition chairman and deputy executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, said, “From Florida to California, climate change and water source pollution are combining to make the need for new water supplies a critical priority in the years ahead.”

Water Security Research

The National Research Council (NRC) has urged the Environmental Protection Agency to improve the communication of its water security research.

NRC, after reviewing EPA’s efforts, said the agency has communicated information to water utilities in some areas. But in other areas - including physical and cyber security, contingency planning, and wastewater security - progress has been weak or disjointed.

The council said, “The problem of information sharing in a security context is one of the most difficult the EPA faces. Currently, some important information on priority contaminants and threats that could improve utilities’ response capabilities has been classified and cannot be shared with utilities, even through secure dissemination mechanisms.”

The report praised the efforts by EPA’s National Homeland Security Research group to improve security at US water and wastewater systems, but it said EPA needs a strategic plan for the effort, more in-house research expertise, and peer review of sensitive and classified work.

It urged EPA to improve internet-based tools such as the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center and to “consider developing a Web-based information portal to make the research findings more readily accessible.

The 13-member NRC panel was chaired by David Ozonoff of Boston University’s School of Public Health.

SRF Funding

President George W. Bush has signed a congressional resolution that continues fiscal 2006 funding for federal agencies for the rest of fiscal 2007, which ends Sept. 30. The action will enable the Democratic-controlled Congress to focus on fiscal 2008 appropriations.

One of the exceptions in the funding bill was that the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) was funded at just over $1.35 billion, up $197 million from fiscal 2006.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wisc.) stressed that funding for the Clean Water SRF would not contain provisions earmarking funds for specific water and sewer projects in congressional districts.

Meanwhile, the full House was preparing to consider two water bills reported by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

The Water Quality Financing Act would authorize funding for the Clean Water SRF at $14 billion for fiscal years 2008 through 2011. (Congress would have to appropriate the money later.) An earlier version of the bill authorized $20 billion through 2012 but ran afoul of a congressional budget cap issue.

The other bill, the Water Quality Investment Act, would authorize $1.8 billion in grants for combined and sanitary sewer overflow control projects.

GAO Report Examines Storage Tank Cleanup Costs

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said it would cost $12 billion in state and federal funds to clean 54,000 of the 117,000 confirmed leaks from underground petroleum storage tanks -- leaks which threaten groundwater supplies.

GAO said 43 states expect to confirm about 16,700 new releases in the next five years that will require at least some public funds for cleanup.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, released the GAO report. He complained the Bush administration has requested the release of only $72.4 million from the federal Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund, established to clean petroleum and methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) contamination of drinking water supplies.

Dingell said a one tenth of a cent per gallon tax on gasoline was used to build the fund, which had a surplus of $2.57 billion in fiscal 2006 and was expected to total $3 billion by the end of fiscal 2008. The trust fund received $197 million in tax collections in fiscal 2006, plus $99 million in interest.

EPA Defends Stand on Perchlorate

During a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson defended his agency’s December decision not to extend water monitoring requirements for the toxin perchlorate.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), committee chairwoman, has campaigned for tighter checks on the rocket fuel additive. “Not only has EPA failed to set a standard for perchlorate, but Americans will lack up-to-date information on whether their tap water is contaminated with this toxin,” she said.

Johnson said the first round of monitoring for perchlorate established that existing data is sufficient to support regulatory action, making more monitoring unnecessary. He said that EPA now must determine if a drinking water standard would reduce risk, and what portion of the exposure comes from food versus water.

Separately, EPA issued the first labels for landscape irrigation under its WaterSense water-efficiency partnership program.

The WaterSense labels were issued to the Irrigation Association’s Certified Irrigation Designer and Certified Irrigation Contractor programs.

Program participants must be tested for their ability to design, install and maintain water-efficient landscape irrigation systems.

WaterSense is a voluntary public-private partnership that identifies and promotes high-performance products - such as toilets and faucets - that help preserve the nation’s water supply.

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